Publications

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  • Targeting Investments To Cost Effectively Restore and Protect Wetland Ecosystems: Some Economic Insights

    ERR-183, February 19, 2015

    ERS findings suggest how and where funds for wetland protection and restoration might be targeted within States, regions, and across the United States to maximize environmental benefits relative to costs.

  • Managing the Costs of Reducing Agriculture’s Footprint on the Chesapeake Bay

    Amber Waves, July 07, 2014

    Runoff from agricultural activity and other nonpoint sources contributes to adverse environmental conditions in the Chesapeake Bay, interfering with fish and shellfish production and compromising recreational opportunities. In order to meet Environmental Protection Agency goals for the Chesapeake Bay, loadings of nutrients and sediments from agricultural activity must be reduced.

  • An Economic Assessment of Policy Options To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay

    ERR-166, June 04, 2014

    ERS researchers use data on agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to assess the effectiveness of different policies for achieving nutrient and sediment reduction goals, ranging from voluntary financial incentives to regulation.

  • Nitrogen Management in Corn Production Appears To Be Improving

    Amber Waves, December 03, 2012

    An ERS study of nitrogen management on U.S. corn cropland over 2001-10 indicates that corn producers may be adjusting to changing economic conditions and environmental concerns. U.S. corn acreage treated with nitrogen increased 18 percent during the period as corn prices rose by 70 percent in response to increased demand for grain for export and ethanol production.

  • Nitrogen Management on U.S. Corn Acres, 2001-10

    EB-20, November 14, 2012

    Nitrogen is a critical input in agriculture, and corn is the largest user of nitrogen. An examination of nitrogen management on corn cropland indicates that corn producers appear to be applying less excess nitrogen.

  • Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators, 2012

    EIB-98, August 22, 2012

    The 2012 edition provides resource-and environment-related information including farmland area, productivity, irrigation, pesticide use, adoption of genetically engineered crops, fertilizer use, conservation practices, and land retirement.

  • Nitrogen in Agricultural Systems: Implications for Conservation Policy

    ERR-127, September 22, 2011

    Nitrogen is an important agricultural input that is critical for crop production. However, the introduction of large amounts of nitrogen into the environment has a number of undesirable impacts on water, terrestrial, and atmospheric resources. This report explores the use of nitrogen in U.S. agriculture and assesses changes in nutrient management by farmers that may improve nitrogen use efficiency. It also reviews a number of policy approaches for improving nitrogen management and identifies issues affecting their potential performance. Findings reveal that about two-thirds of U.S. cropland is not meeting three criteria for good nitrogen management related to the rate, timing, and method of application. Several policy approaches, including financial incentives, nitrogen management as a condition of farm program eligibility, and regulation, could induce farmers to improve their nitrogen management and reduce nitrogen losses to the environment.

  • Trends and Developments in Hog Manure Management: 1998-2009

    EIB-81, September 14, 2011

    In the past decade, hog production has increasingly become consolidated, with larger operations producing a greater volume of hog manure on smaller areas. With less cropland for spreading the manure, hog farmers may be compensating through more effective manure management. The authors use data from 1998 to 2009 collected in three national surveys of hog farmers. Over this period, structural changes in the hog sector altered how manure is stored and handled. Changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and local conflicts over air quality also affected manure management decisions. The findings further suggest that environmental policy has influenced conservation-compatible manure management practices. The authors examine how the use of nutrient management plans and of practices such as controlled manure application rates vary with scale of production and how these practices changed over the study period. This report is an update of an earlier report, Changes in Manure Management in the Hog Sector: 1998-2004.

  • Reducing Agriculture’s Nitrogen Footprint: Are New Policy Approaches Needed?

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2011

    Agriculture is the single largest source of nitrogen compounds that can help or harm ecosystems. A range of policy instruments could be used to address different facets of nitrogen management and specific environmental problems.

  • The Farm Act's Regional Equity Provision: Impacts on Conservation Program Outcomes

    ERR-98, June 11, 2010

    The 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts increased funding for conservation programs that provide financial assistance to farmers to implement conservation practices on working farmland. Along with seeking cost-effective environmental benefits, these programs have a goal of spreading conservation funding equitably across States. The 2002 and 2008 Farm Acts strengthened this allocative goal by setting a minimum threshold for conservation funding for each State-one that exceeds historical funding for some States-for enrolling agricultural producers in specified conservation programs. This study uses conservation program data to examine evidence of the impacts of the Regional Equity provision of the 2002 Farm Act, and explores the tradeoffs that can occur among conservation program goals when legislation gives primacy to fund allocation. The study found that cross-State shifts in funding reduced the acres receiving conservation treatment for many resource problems, but increased the net economic benefits from treatments on some of them. Overall impacts on the types of producers enrolled were small.

  • Larger Farms, Environmental Policy Affecting Manure Management

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2009

    Changes in the structure of livestock farms from smaller to larger increasingly specialized operations have altered manure management practices. At the same time, changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and local conflicts over odor are requiring livestock producers to more carefully consider their manure management decisions.

  • Manure Use for Fertilizer and for Energy: Report to Congress

    AP-037, June 25, 2009

    The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to evaluate the role of animal manure as a source of fertilizer, and its other uses. About 5 percent of all U.S. cropland is currently fertilized with livestock manure, and corn accounts for over half of the acreage to which manure is applied. Expanded environmental regulation through nutrient management plans will likely lead to wider use of manure on cropland, at higher production costs, but with only modest impacts on production costs, commodity demand, or farm structure. There is widespread interest in using manure as a feedstock for energy production. While current use is quite limited, expanded government support, either direct or indirectly, could lead to a substantial increase in manure use as a feedstock. However, current energy processes are unlikely to compete with fertilizer uses of manure, because they leave fertilizer nutrients as residues, in more marketable form, and because manure-to-energy projects will be most profitable in regions where raw manure is in excess supply, with the least value as fertilizer.

  • Changes in Manure Management in the Hog Sector: 1998-2004

    EIB-50, March 31, 2009

    In recent years, structural changes in the hog sector, including increased farm size and regional shifts in production, have altered manure management practices. Also, changes to the Clean Water Act, State regulations, and increasing local conflicts over air quality issues, including odor, have influenced manure management decisions. This study uses data from two national surveys of hog farmers to examine how hog manure management practices vary with the scale of production and how these practices evolved between 1998 and 2004. Included are the effects of structural changes, recent policies on manure management technologies and practices, the use of nutrient management plans, and manure application rates. The findings suggest that larger hog operations are altering their manure management decisions in response to binding nutrient application constraints, and that environmental policy is contributing to the adoption of conservation compatible manure management practices.

  • Agriculture and Water Quality Trading: Exploring the Possibilities

    Amber Waves, March 01, 2009

    Water quality trading is a market-based approach intended to reduce pollution at a lower cost than through traditional regulatory action. The Environmental Protection Agency and USDA are actively promoting water quality trading programs in watersheds impaired by pollutants, such as nutrients, produced by both regulated and unregulated sources, such as agriculture. Polluted runoff from agricultural fields is not regulated under the Clean Water Act, and greater use of trading might increase the number of farms willing and able to change their farming practices to reduce nutrient runoff.

  • Market Failures: When the Invisible Hand Gets Shaky

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2008

    Government intervention in agricultural markets may be warranted under circumstances where markets fail to allocate resources efficiently.

  • Economic Measures of Soil Conservation Benefits: Regional Values for Policy Assessment

    TB-1922, September 19, 2008

    This report describes data and methodologies that the Economic Research Service has used to apply monetary values to changes in soil erosion. Values and methodology are clearly described so that analysts can apply the data to specific soil conservation projects. ERS has used the values to estimate soil conservation benefits of changes in farm programs and practices, but no analyses of farm programs or practices are provided here. The benefit values are regional dollar-per-ton measures of 14 different categories of soil conservation benefits. There are other soil conservation benefits categories beyond those reported here, so a full accounting of benefits is not possible. As a result, monetary values derived from applications of these data are likely to be lower-bound estimates of the benefits or costs of changes in soil erosion. The data are thought to be detailed enough for national and regional estimates, but lack precision for smaller scale estimates.

  • The Use of Markets To Increase Private Investment in Environmental Stewardship

    ERR-64, September 02, 2008

    U.S. farmers and ranchers produce a wide variety of commodities for food, fuel, and fiber in response to market signals. Farms also contain significant amounts of natural resources that can provide a host of environmental services, including cleaner air and water, flood control, and improved wildlife habitat. Environmental services are often valued by society, but because they are a public good-that is, people can obtain them without paying for them-farmers and ranchers may not benefit financially from producing them. As a result, farmers and ranchers underprovide these services. This report explores the use of market mechanisms, such as emissions trading and eco-labels, to increase private investment in environmental stewardship. Such investments could complement or even replace public investments in traditional conservation programs. The report also defines roles for government in the creation and function of markets for environmental services.

  • Creating Markets for Environmental Stewardship: Potential Benefits and Problems

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2008

    Farmers and other landowners typically under-provide environmental services such as clean air and water, carbon sequestration, and improved wildlife habitat. Markets for environmental services could increase farmer investments in environmental stewardship, thereby expanding the supply of environmental services. Impediments to the formation of fully functioning markets for agricultural environmental services may be difficult or costly to overcome.

  • Managing Environmental Risk at the Rural-Urban Fringe

    Amber Waves, September 03, 2007

    Concerns over environmental quality by nonfarm residents in close proximity to farms may influence farmers' choice of management practices. Detailed analysis of corn farms yields insight into this relationship and its implications for the use of cropland best management practices.

  • Environmental Credit Trading: Can Farming Benefit?

    Amber Waves, May 01, 2007

    Environmental credit trading is a market-based approach to complying with regulations with the potential to achieve pollution abatement goals at least cost to society. Agriculture can contribute to credit trading programs by generating pollution-reduction credits through the adoption of environmentally preferred practices and selling the credits to regulated firms.